One year after the campaign’s foundation, Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine (SARU) held its annual general meeting at University College London on June 13, 2015. The conference reflected the progress the campaign has made over the last year with 65 delegates present from towns and cities across the country. Delegates included representatives from trade unions including Unite, the NUM, the NUT and the RMT; students from many universities; and members and representatives of a range of socialist and left-wing groups.
Solidarity greetings were sent to the conference from Italian supporters involved in the antifascist caravan to Donbass, from internationalists in the US, and, critically, from the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republics, via Skype.
The conference achieved three important things. It updated delegates on the situation in Ukraine, with reports directly from the frontline. It reviewed the work undertaken over the past year by SARU and planned future action. And it reviewed and agreed upon the campaigns goals, including establishing a broader steering group to take the campaign forward over the year ahead.
The first conference session examined the geopolitical context of the conflict in Ukraine. Andrew Murray of the Communist Party of Britain, Jorge Martin of Socialist Appeal and Richard Brenner of Left Unity and Workers Power spoke about how NATO engaged in a provocative military build-up in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States following its sponsorship of the Maidan coup in February 2014. NATO governments have given unwavering support for the far-right regime of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk throughout its murderous assault on the east of the country in which thousands had been killed and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.
Andrew Murray began by congratulating SARU on its work. “At this stage”, he said, “it is difficult work, but it vitally necessary”. He explained that NATO’s eastward drive meant that “the same powers that have destroyed the Middle East were now going to do the same thing in eastern Europe”, and concluded that “in Ukraine, we see the beginning, but it is very far from the end. In the conflict there today, we see the outlines of a much bigger war.”
Jorge Martin spoke about how the U.S. Congress had voted not to supply arms and support to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, and how this opened a contradiction in the ranks of the regime’s imperialist backers because “they are now incorporated into the regular army, they are one and the same thing.” He attacked the Kiev regime’s repression including its ban on ‘any defence of the regime that existed between Russia between 1917 and 1991’.
Richard Brenner talked about how the campaign had been established around a year ago in reaction to the appalling massacre by the Right Sector of more than 49 antifascists and anti-Maidan protesters in Odessa. Also, he explained, SARU faced criticism from within the labour movement saying unions in Britain should not take sides between the ‘two narratives’ in Ukraine. Richard said if anyone had tried to go on the Maidan protest and influence it in a positive direction, they would have been driven from it by the far right, not with narratives but with knives. It was therefore necessary to rouse a movement against it, and that is exactly what has happened. For this reason, our campaign was called ‘Solidarity with the Antifascist resistance in Ukraine.’
After discussion from the floor, the conference moved to discuss the contemporary situation in Ukraine itself.
First up was Aleksandr Smekalin, a deputy of the Supreme Council of the Donbass People’s Republic. Alexandr spoke about the huge difficulties people are facing in the Donbass today and welcomed the support delivered from campaigns around the world, including from SARU in the UK. He denounced western governments for backing the far-right junta in Ukraine and said that, by contrast, Russia was one of the only places delivering significant material aid to the rebel republics in Ukraine. While this was welcome, it also reinforced the need for wider international solidarity because the interests of the Russian Federation and the people’s republics do not always coincide. The reason for this, he said, was that Russia was also ruled by oligarchs.
Victor Shapinov of the Union Borotba group of Ukraine then spoke. He invited questions from the floor and talked about how his organisation and the Communist Party had faced repression from the Kiev regime. He explained that working class people in Kyiv-controlled eastern Ukraine were facing privations, cuts, and not being paid salaries. This showed that the far-right regime is a regime of crisis. He said that communists could play a growing role in the resistance in the east and the west, but this would mean not only a correct policy but also really connecting with the people.
Then we heard from Alexey Markhov, a commander of the ‘Ghost’ Battalion’, a communist fighting unit of the Lugansk People’s Republic. Alexey was speaking in difficult circumstances, following the recent assassination of battalion’s commander Aleksey Mozgovoy. Aleksey Markov explained the conditions facing the self-defense troops and the ‘squalor and tedium’ on the front line. He said that many indicators suggested an imminent offensive by the Kiev regime forces and their Nazi auxiliary ‘punishment’ troops. He gave no optimistic gloss on the military position, but was characteristically frank about the difficulties faced, which he said they would meet and overcome. He reiterated the need for international solidarity and regretted that some on the international left represented ‘special interest groups’ rather than ‘parties of mass struggle’. He spoke sceptically about the impact of the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement of last February, criticised aspects of the policy of the Russian Federation and insisted that the Ghost Battalion would not abandon its joint character as a military force ‘and a political one’, because ‘both are necessary for victory’.
The conference heard from Anatoly Khmelevoy, Chair of the Transport Workers Union of the Donetsk People’s Republic. He spoke of the huge difficulties facing workers and citizens in Donetsk and surrounding regions and called for international solidarity.
Davy Hopper of the Durham Miners’ Association in Britain gave warm greetings to the conference. He pledged the support of the Durham Miners for SARU and extended an invitation to the Durham Miners’ Gala in July. He conceded that there is a debate to have within the unions in Britain and encouraged SARU to travel to Durham and have it. He said that the Durham Miners’ Association aims to get the issue of Ukraine re-raised within the National Union of Mineworkers. Davy told the conference he remembered very well the solidarity he had received from Donbass miners during the 1984-85 strike. He had visited Donbass himself in 1991. “So let’s get our acts together and let’s fight back and support our brothers and comrades in Ukraine”.
The conference then agreed to revised and updated aims, including an unambiguous call for the withdrawal of British troops from Ukraine and central Europe, alongside existing policy of opposing NATO intervention, repression of the left in Ukraine, justice for the victims of the Odessa massacre, and support for the resistance.
The conference heard from groups across the country, including a longstanding initiative in Bristol which had recently decided to affiliate to SARU, a new group in Newcastle, and from Russian nationals living in the UK expressing support for the popular resistance in Ukraine.
A steering group was elected comprising David Ayrton, Bridget Dunne (secretary), Eddie Dempsey, Alex Gordon, Jorge Martin, Ben Gliniecki, Jack Dearlove, Tom Piers, Richard Brenner, Theo Russell, Gerald Downing and Paul Williams.
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